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Amazon’s CreateSpace Provides a Safe Haven for Textbook Scams, Money Laundering, and Rampant Piracy

Amazon is destroying the Kindle Store from the inside out by letting broken algorithms run the show, punishing innocents while letting major scammers off scot-free.

Createspace, in comparison, would better be described as the wild west. Amazon’s POD operation is supervised by neither person nor machine, which is why I have found a massive textbook piracy scam there in 2015, and why someone was able to run a money-laundering operation under Amazon’s nose.

And then there is the piracy operation that I just found today.

Early this morning Dave Zatz brought my attention to the plight of Jamie Lendino. Jamie is the editor in chief of a tech blog owned by Ziff-Davis, and he is also the author of Breakout: How Atari 8-Bit Computers Defined a Generation (also published by Ziff Davis). That book is being sold through the Kindle Store and distributed through Createspace, and it is also being pirated through Createspace by an exceptionally lazy pirate going by the pseudonym "Steve S.Thomas".

The pirated copy of the book not only has the same content, it literally uses the same layout and even the same page headers (which include the original title). All the pirate did was cut a few pages like the copyright page, and then slap on his own cover (which was a graphic pirated from a classic video game).

Given that the original book was published through Createspace, it should not have been possible to also pirate the book in Createspace.

All it would take to stop the piracy is a very simple measure where Createspace embeds digital watermarks in books when they are submitted, and then also checks incoming books for said digital watermarks. Any book that has digital watermarks that match an existing book would be held for review by a person.

This doesn’t require a brilliant engineer; a competent high school student – say, one that is on a BotBall team – could have coded the anti-piracy measure.

It is that simple.

And yet Createspace didn’t bother.

This indifference has enabled the pirate to distribute not one, but 11 pirated books through Createspace. A quick check of BookFinder shows that "Steve S.Thomas" has eleven books through Createspace, including:

I found the original books through the incredibly advanced investigative technique of Googling snippets from each pirated book’s summary (the summaries had also been pirated).

Createspace could duplicate that technique as an anti-piracy measure by hiring a college sophomore as an intern over Christmas break, and having them code it.

And yet Createspace hasn’t bothered.

It’s the wild west over there, y’all.

P.S. Amazon was not contacted before I published this post. I saw no reason to wait on a generic statement expressing concern when Amazon has demonstrated that it doesn’t care enough to fix the problem. When I reported on the textbook scam in 2015, I asked Amazon what they could tell me about the anti-piracy measures they were going to implement to prevent the scam from happening again. Amazon did not answer at the time, but it is now over 30 months later and the answer is obviously diddly squat.

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daniel April 13, 2018 um 1:39 pm

I use createspace for a long time now and have several books published here. Almost half of the time, they ask me to proove I own the copyright.

Allen F April 13, 2018 um 3:48 pm

Sadly watermarks are easily removed/changed/distorted, so that’s not a real solution (yes, it might slow/stop the really lazy ones, but not one willing to actually do ten minutes of work to 'steal/copy' it.)

Nate Hoffelder April 13, 2018 um 4:26 pm

they may not be perfect but they would at least make things a little more difficult for pirates.

Andrei Kelner April 14, 2018 um 10:30 am

Speaking of money laundering….
If you search in Amazon for Jules Verne, or Charles Dickens or any other classics you will found thousand of CreateSpace – published titles and formats.
Nothing is pirated, free copyrights materials…a steady revenues stream.

Mike Cane April 14, 2018 um 11:13 am

Pffft. Making money from public domain works is nothing new. The REAL scandal is the public domain looters who RE-Copyright PD works (which is legal, but shouldn’t be) and then DEMAND via DMCA that the FREE version be taken down. This has led Google Books to "privatize" too many damn books that were once — and should still be — free.

Disgusting Dude April 14, 2018 um 11:14 am

If you want to launder a ton of money all you need to do is hire a ghost writer to write an ebook or two. Quick and dirty.
Publish it via an aggregator or two and have it uploaded globally at $9.99.
More, if the ghost writer is halfway competent, you might make money from people buying it cleanly. You can also hire a bunch of english lit college students to clean up the entire Gutenberg library and publish those in bundles, say all the works of a given author, maybe with period covers and illustrations and sell those. Build up a catalog of a few hundred, maybe a thousand each selling for $2.99.

Now, anytime you need to launder a few thousand bucks you buy rechargeable credit cards or gift cards and set up a hundred accounts to buy and download the ebooks. Since ebookstores don’t share sales data and the books won’t be total junk, nobody will have anything actionable. They might not even notice.

Build up a book mill with a few ghosts and interns cranking out a hundred books a year and you can launder large sums without a single TOS vio!ation.

Google would be a great p!ace to run this type of operation because nobody would notice a thing. Just an uptick in sales. If you run an international ring you can move the money across borders this way. Kobo’s network of partner stores would be handy for that.

Scammers that get caught are just lazy and sloppy.

Mike April 14, 2018 um 4:39 pm

a massive textbook piracy scam

Would that be the one were professors force you to buy a friends book at a very inflated price.

Nate Hoffelder April 14, 2018 um 5:33 pm


You are not wrong on that one.

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Claire Plaisted April 22, 2018 um 6:25 pm

Not at all surprised with the piracy. I’ve knew something was going on when books I published suddenly had two different paperbacks. Strangely one had an ASIN Number, a lower page count and no LOOK INSIDE…It also had a weird number after the book title. Each time it happened I took print screen shots and sent emails to Createspace. They took them down…only for me to find them on another Amazon site…

I now refuse to use them. It is to wide spread and I don’t have the time to continually email them…

stephen May 3, 2018 um 12:16 pm

Hi Claire and thanks for you post. Do I understand you correctly that you have pulled your listing on Createspace? (I am asking because I am about to self publish) Do you still use Amazon? and if not – other platforms you may reecomment? Thank you!

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